The renewed regional initiative has set two strategic goals:
• Recruit a regional airline that is aligned with a major carrier such as American, Delta or US Airways.
• Establish service to a major connecting hub.
In summary, the survey wants to know “If a major airline provides service from Somerset to a major connecting hub with reasonable fares, will you and your company use the service?” This is what commercial airline services want to know.
“We’re surveying mainly with printed forms ... distributed among chambers and business organizations in the region,” said Bobby Clue, executive director of Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce. “Airlines are not interested unless they have statistics,” he emphasized.
A Florida-based commuter airline operated out of Lake Cumberland Regional Airport, first to Nashville and then to Washington, D.C., for a little more than two years. It was subsidized with about $900,000 obtained by Congressman Hal Rogers from the U.S. Department of Transportation and $100,000 in local matching funds. No sustaining local source of funding developed before the federal funds were exhausted and the airline shut down February 19, 2010.
As part of its efforts to restore air service at Lake Cumberland Regional, the development foundation retained Louisville-based consulting firm L.B. Schmidt & Associates, LLC, to assist in the effort. The consulting firm updated the market profile, which recognizes the airport will serve 15 Kentucky counties with a combined population of 384,000 people. Luke B. Schmidt is consultant to the foundation.
Shearer said the development foundation’s efforts to recruit a commuter airline service is part of a broader effort by Somerset-Pulaski Convention & Visitors Bureau, airport board and city and county governments. “We’re just spearheading it ... we’re happy to do it,” Shearer said.
Lake Cumberland Regional Airport is jointly owned by Somerset and Pulaski County. It is operated by an airport board chaired by Don Bandy. Members are John Tuttle, Richard Vanhook, Delynn Gibson, David Morris and John Hicks.
The airport operation is financed with a 2 percent allocation from the county’s 1 cent occupational tax, amounting to about $150,000 a year, according to Baker.